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Simon Blackley
European. Communicator. Android user.
European. Communicator. Android user.

Simon's posts

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Anyone watching #WolfHall? Historian Cath Fletcher is live-tweeting background notes. Here's her Storify from Episode 1. Episode 2 to follow...

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Simon Blackley commented on a post on Blogger.
Use an HDMI to VGA+audio adapter to plug a Chromecast directly into any audio system with AUX input.

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Recommendations for podcast makers and listeners in 2015

As digital content explodes into the lives of ordinary people through services like YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, it's time to ask: "What the hell happened to podcasts?"

2014 has been described as a 'stellar' year for podcasting. With more than 5 million downloads on iTunes, the NPR hit Serial significantly increased the number of people who have ever listened to a podcast, and therefore the potential audience for other shows. But even in the US, that audience is still only around 15% of the population. It's hard to understand why it isn't three or four times bigger. If you have a smartphone, podcasts offer a fantastic way to learn and be entertained while you commute, exercise or do housework. It's like a personal radio station. It only plays your favourite shows, and it makes sure they are always available when you want to listen to them.

The lack of an obvious way for podcast creators or publishers to make money may no longer be a barrier. For many, including public service broadcasters like the BBC, podcasting is simply another content marketing channel, and they are happy to give away their audio content as they would a corporate blog. For media titles like The Guardian and The Economist, podcasts also represent a secondary channel, although these attempt to offset costs with some advertising. A number of dedicated networks such as TWiT, 5by5, Radiotopia and Gimlet Media are entirely ad-funded, and Gimlet at least is exploring creative new ways to present audio ads. Some shows -- including several from NPR -- raise money through direct appeals to listeners as well as from sponsors. Serial recently succeeded in part-funding its second season through donations from listeners. Radiotopia has raised funds using Kickstarter, while Gimlet Media secured $1.5 million of venture capital. And December 2014 saw the launch of at least two new specialised podcast funding platforms -- Joyride and Castbacker -- which aim to generate a revenue stream for podcast creators based on small donations from listeners.

More serious is the persistent lack of an easy and comprehensive mechanism for podcast discovery. iTunes has established a semi-monopoly as the primary podcast directory. But that leaves the 85% of the world's smartphone users who have chosen other platforms -- as well as the iPhone users that have abandoned iTunes -- out in the cold. To find new podcasts we rely mainly on recommendations in the press or from friends, and on the 'Discover' functions of our chosen podcast listening apps (generally known as 'podcast managers' or 'podcatchers'). There are alternatives to iTunes, but publishers must register separately with each service, so these all tend to be incomplete. More frequently than I would like, I am reduced to finding the RSS feed of a new podcast I want to try, and copy-pasting the URL into my podcast manager. Fw people are willing to dirty their digital hands in this way. (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Right!) 

Recommendations for the podcast 'industry'

1. There seems to me to be a big gap in the market for a 'universal' (and yes, that means multi-lingual), independent podcast directory. This would make life easier for publishers, app-makers and above all listeners. Someone should do it.

2. It is often inconvenient or impossible to take notes while listening to a podcast. Not all podcasts include references that listeners might want to follow up later, but many do. Good show-notes, easily accessible from the short description included in the main feed and put online as soon as each episode is published, are a really valuable additional service to listeners. Some podcasts even provide full transcripts. I'm not sure whether I'd ever want to read the transcript of a podcast that I had already listened to, but even good show-notes can be indexed by search engines, and should therefore help to build audiences.

3. Sound quality is important. Personally, I am no longer willing to listen to conversations where one or more of the participants is 'Skyping in' using a consumer-grade microphone or headset. Decent mics are no longer prohibitively expensive, and a sound-proofed studio is not necessary. Low and inconsistent volume levels still plague many 'professional' podcasts, and I sometimes wonder if the engineers have ever tried downloading their own MP3 files and listen to them through ear-buds on a commuter train.

4. An easy way to share episodes, or even bookmarks within episodes, would give podcasts access to the social amplification from which video clips benefit so much. Pocket Casts (see my recommendations below) is one podcast manager that has pioneered this functionality. I can now tweet out a link to a precise point in any podcast that I am listening to.

Recommendations for podcast listeners

Podcast manager app -- I have no hesitation in recommending Pocket Casts. It's cross-platform (Android, iOS and Windows PC), highly configurable and easy to use.

Headphones -- I've been using comfortable, inexpensive ear-buds from MEElectronics for the past four years, and can vouch for their sound quality and their durability.

Chromecast -- Not all podcast managers are compatible with Chromecast, but Pocket Casts is. I have a Chromecast attached to the AUX input of a high-quality Hi-Fi system via a cheap HDMI to VGA/audio adapter. That gives me the option of listening to podcasts through large speakers rather than through headphones.

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Close encounter

Amazing ESA images of comet #67P from 10km away.

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On the Bride's side
Looking forward to seeing this prize-winning, crowd-funded docu-drama about #migration in the #EU. Watch the trailer.

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Short film review: Leviathan

A man's life is destroyed by corruption, lust and vodka.
Magnificent. Great acting, great scenery.

The few, small things that are wrong with Google Inbox

I've lived with +Inbox by Gmail on mobile, work and home PCs for a week. I hugely admire Google's UX-based rethinking of the whole email experience. And the integration with Calendar, Reminders, Contacts is impressive. But there are still some rough corners that need to be sanded down. 
Popouts -- these should work in the same way they do in Gmail. But they don't.
Accented characters -- the AccentsPlus Chrome extension works perfectly in the popped-out Gmail compose/reply windows, but doesn't seem to work at all in Inbox. This is a deal-breaker for anyone who works in more than one language.
Attachment actions -- you'd expect the integration with Google Drive to be even better than Gmail's, but it isn't. There's no 'Open in Google Docs' option, so we're forced back to an awkward and time-consuming Download / go to Drive / Open file routine.
Signatures -- I had expected my signature settings to be inherited from Gmail, but they aren't. How hard could it be to implement that?
I hope Google isn't thinking of Inbox as a 'dumbed down' email client. It is far more than that. But if they want serious users to take it up, they'll need to continue to work on it.

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The price of EU membership
How UK taxpayers' money is really spent. Check the size of the #EU contribution! Infographic from the Economist.

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Cripes. I should introduce to my son. He takes over the kitchen every time he's here to produce shampoo from nuts. But I admire the small-footprint effort. Your last shirt has no pockets.
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